What do baby rabbits eat?

What Do Baby Rabbits Eat?

A baby rabbit’s diet is important and can determine how strong and healthy it will be for the rest of its life. A domesticated rabbit’s diet is very similar, in fact, to that of its wild country cousin. A baby rabbit is an herbivore and begins to eat a diet of grass and vegetation at a very young age.

Because a rabbit’s body is constantly growing and changing during the first six months of its life, what a baby rabbit eats is incredibly important and crucial to its long-term health. By ensuring your baby bunny has sufficient nutrients in its diet, you’re helping it to develop healthy muscle mass and adequate bone density. Muscle mass and bone density are extremely critical and will safeguard your bun’s health now and in the future.

The ideal diet for any rabbit, young and old alike, is high in fiber which ensures gut health and promotes the movement of food through their digestive tract. The food they eat must also help to wear down their teeth which continue to grow just like our fingernails do.

But what does this all mean? What can you feed your bun to ensure its health? If you’ve been asking yourself, what can I feed a baby rabbit, keep reading to learn more.

Be sure to get the kit checked by a vet who is knowledgeable in the care of rabbits. Check with a vet or wildlife rehabilitation specialist who will be able to answer any questions that you may have concerning the care of a baby rabbit.

What Do Baby Rabbits Eat

Prior to weaning, a baby rabbit receives all the nourishment it requires from its mother’s milk. As it grows, however, it begins to nibble on the foods its mother is eating. A baby bunny can be fully weaned around four weeks of age but may continue to nurse periodically until eight weeks of age. Although it is very small, it quickly learns to fend for itself.

When feeding a baby rabbit, you must forget all the stereotypes you’ve seen on TV such as Bugs Bunny munching away on carrots. Although carrots can serve as an occasional treat, eating too many stereotypical foods such as carrots and iceberg lettuce can lead to health problems for all rabbits, both young and adult.

How to Feed Wild Baby Rabbits

What Do wild Baby Rabbits Eat: Wild Baby Rabbits Eat Grass and Leaves
A wild baby rabbit begins to eat a diet of grass and leaves even before it is weaned.

In the wild, a mother rabbit builds a warm nest to take care of her babies during her absence. In fact, mother rabbits generally only return to the nest twice a day, feeding their babies for about five minutes each time and taking care of their kittens’ toileting needs. At ten days of age, the baby bunnies begin to open their eyes. At this point, they start to nibble on grass and herbage as they explore their surroundings.

A baby cottontail is fully weaned at three to four weeks of age. Although they may return to the nest to sleep at night for another week or so, they learn to provide for themselves early in life. Wild baby bunnies are herbivores. Their diet consists mostly of grass, leaves, vegetables, fruits, twigs and shrubs.

Generally, when you see young wild rabbits out and about, they have not been abandoned by their mother. If they appear healthy, they should be left alone. They are typically able to care for themselves despite their small size.

Bottle feeding wild baby rabbits is often left to expert rehabilitators because the babies can easily aspirate if fed incorrectly or too quickly. Fortunately, if you must bottle-feed a baby bunny, it won’t be for long because they’re weaned at such an early age.

Once wild rabbits are two weeks old, water and proper vegetation will also need to be incorporated into their diet as they’re slowly weaned over the next couple of weeks.

Can Baby Rabbits Drink Cow’s Milk

Occasionally, someone may find themselves caring for a baby rabbit that hasn’t been weaned. Their first instinct may be to turn to cow’s milk as an alternative to feed the baby bun. Although baby rabbits need milk, cow’s milk is not a good alternative for baby bunnies.

Kitten formula, KMR (kitten milk replacer), is the closest equivalent to a mother rabbit’s milk. Even then, because rabbit milk is more calorie-dense than kitten milk and has certain probiotics, other ingredients should be incorporated into the formula to improve its nutrient and calorie density. Goat milk is better than cow’s milk as well if you need a replacement for KMR.

University of Miami Baby Rabbit Formula Recipe

If you find you need to provide care to a baby rabbit, be sure to get the kit checked by a vet who is knowledgeable in the care of rabbits. Check with a vet or wildlife rehabilitation specialist who will be able to answer any questions that you may have concerning the care of a baby rabbit.

You’ll find lots of recipes for rabbit formula on the internet. We strongly recommend sticking to the very best sources for your recipe.

University of Miami Biology Department Recipe for Domestic Rabbit Formula

This recipe is calorie-dense, helping to make it similar to rabbit’s milk. You can find the recipe here along with other excellent information.

  • ½ c. KMR
  • ½ c. whole goat milk
  • 1.5 T. freeze-dried colostrum
  • 1/2 t. sugar-free heavy cream

What to Feed Baby Bunnies

If you’ve chosen to bring a baby bunny into your life, you may be wondering what to feed your new companion. Diet is very important. Not only does the food you give them provide sustenance, but it also helps them build a strong healthy body that will benefit them for their entire life.

While they are actively growing, baby rabbits require more protein than they’ll need as they get older, so you’ll want to provide them with alfalfa hay and pellets. It’s important not to overfeed young rabbits, as this can cause obesity and health problems later in life. As their rate of growth slows, their diet needs to include more fiber and less protein.

If you have any questions about diet, a vet who is knowledgeable in the care of rabbits will be able to advise you on what best to feed your rabbit in all stages of development.

What Can I Feed a Baby Rabbit

A domesticated baby rabbit’s main food source isn’t much different from its wild cousin’s, who will graze on grass most of the day; however, it can be hard to provide enough grass for this purpose. Hay, therefore, becomes the ideal substitute, and companion rabbits often nibble on it throughout the day.

Baby bunnies also enjoy and benefit from a supply of specialized pellets which are a good source of calories for a baby rabbit, while also providing a wide range of vitamins and nutrients. As the young rabbit matures, the amount of pellets should be reduced and portioned out to prevent obesity.

Although baby rabbits enjoy some fresh fruits and vegetables, they must be used only as an occasional treat because fruits and veggies can cause digestive issues and stomach upset.

All rabbits, young and old alike, need a constant supply of fresh, clean water. Rabbits can drink from a bowl; however, you never have to worry about them spilling a water bottle that is attached to their hutch. It never hurts to provide both to ensure that your bun always has plenty of water. Once it is older, the water bottle should be enough.

Baby Rabbit Food

baby rabbit food: baby rabbits eat hay, pellets and fresh vegetables
A high-quality pellet is an important component of a baby bun’s diet.

Because a young rabbit’s body is constantly growing, they’ll eat a lot. At two weeks of age, a baby bunny begins to eat hay and pellets in addition to its mother’s milk. By four weeks of age, it may be fully weaned.Baby rabbit food should consist of three principal elements – hay, pellets and fresh vegetables, with hay being the foundational component, followed by pellets.

A rabbit’s tummy is sensitive to dietary changes, and a baby rabbit’s is especially so. Therefore, make dietary changes slowly and purposefully to prevent unnecessary stomach upset. Introduce new food items slowly, especially fruits and vegetables, and in small quantities. Then monitor your bun for any adverse reactions.

Feeding Hay to Baby Rabbits

A rabbit’s digestive tract is designed to process fiber, specifically, the fiber found in grass and hay. There are different types of hay that can be fed to rabbits and each type has slightly different characteristics.

  • Hay made from grasses, such as Timothy Hay and Meadow Hay, are offered freely by most rabbit owners. Grass hay is made from tall grass that has been cut and dried. Grass hay is comparable to a wild rabbit’s main food source.
  • Oat Hay is oat grass that is cut prior to blooming. Once the oat grass has blossomed, it has no nutritional value for rabbits and should only be used as bedding, if at all, since they will munch on it if it is available.
  • Alfalfa Hay, which is a legume, is higher in protein and calcium, making it the ideal food source for baby rabbits who use its nutrients to develop strong bones and muscles.

Although it can be tempting to feed your baby rabbit alfalfa hay exclusively, you’ll want to mix in hay made from grasses as well. As your rabbit matures, the alfalfa hay can cause weight gain. Mixing the two together will provide for the nutritional needs of your baby bunny now and make it easier to transition to grass hay later as your bun nears adulthood. The ideal mixture ratio for young rabbits is 60 percent alfalfa to 40 percent grass hay.

Hay is an important aspect of every rabbit’s life; therefore, it’s important to help your baby rabbit learn to associate it with pleasure. Make sure they always have access to fresh hay. Include it in their exercise times and in their playtimes.

Make sure their hutch is filled with it, and that they sleep on it, meaning they will urinate and poop in it. Since it will take a while to litter train a young rabbit, you’ll need to clean out their hutch regularly. Urine-covered hay can become moldy, and moldy hay, when consumed, is toxic to rabbits.

Feeding Pellets to Baby Rabbits

As we’ve already discussed, alfalfa is an ideal food source for young rabbits. Fortunately, pellets also contain alfalfa along with many other essential ingredients benefiting a young rabbit’s growing body. When purchasing pellets, make sure you buy pellets that are formulated for the needs of a young rabbit.

The instructions on the side of the bag will provide recommendations as to the amounts that should be fed to a growing baby bunny.

Don’t buy too large a bag of pellets to save money. Pellets can become moldy with time and make your baby sick. It’s better to purchase smaller bags more frequently.

Also, adult rabbits may not always need to eat pellets, especially if they become overweight, therefore you don’t want your baby bun to become too accustomed to having a constant supply of pellets available to them. Removing them from their diet as an adult can cause a lot of stress. Therefore, teach your baby bunny that hay is to be their main source of food. Pellets are a bonus after they’ve “emptied their plate” of hay.

Provide your baby rabbit with the highest quality pellet possible, one containing at least 22 percent fiber, no more than 14% protein and equal to or less than one percent calcium. Avoid muesli-based pellets.

Feeding Fruits and Vegetables to Baby Rabbits

What to feed baby bunnies: Vegetables and Fruits Make Great Treats
Fruits and Vegetables Make Great Treats

Although television often depicts rabbits eating various vegetables such as carrots and iceberg lettuce, fruits and vegetables should be reserved as treats, and then only if the rabbit isn’t overweight.

Rabbits relish sweet tastes, especially carrots, parsnips, raisins and berries, but these foods should be fed sparingly. A rabbit’s digestive system is not designed to process carbohydrates, however, so use care when providing these treats to your baby bun.

Make sure to thoroughly wash and dry all fruits and vegetables before giving them to your baby rabbit. You need to remove any toxic substances such as pesticide residue from the treats to ensure your bun’s health.

How much fresh fruits and vegetables are safe to feed your baby rabbit? A good rule of thumb is not to exceed one tablespoon for every two pounds of body weight per day and only to be given as a training treat after your bun has eaten a sufficient amount of hay.

Fruits and vegetables should be considered as treats only. Baby rabbits should get all the nourishment they need from the hay and pellets they consume.

When purchasing a baby bun, ask what fruits and vegetables its mother enjoyed. It’s likely the baby had a few nibbles of the same, giving their stomach the ability to deal with them in small amounts. All new foods should be introduced a little at a time giving your bun’s digestive system the ability to cope with the newly introduced food.

Foods That Are Bad For Baby Rabbits

Some fruits and vegetables are poisonous to rabbits or can cause severe gas and bloating and should NEVER be fed to your baby rabbit. These foods include:

  • Avocados
  • Chocolate and cocoa
  • Fruit pips, pits and seeds
  • Rhubarb
  • Alliums – garlic, onions, chives, leeks and shallots
  • Iceberg and other light-colored lettuces – limited amounts of dark leafy lettuces are okay
  • Sugary or processed foods – such as crackers, bread, pasta, cereals, cake and cookies
  • Mushrooms
  • Broad beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Cauliflower and broccoli
  • Chard
  • Oatmeal
  • Walnuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Nightshades (leaves and fruit) – potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant
  • Olives
  • Dates
  • Rice
  • Kelp
  • Corn
  • Fig
  • Currants

Although it can be tempting, it’s best not to share “people food” with your baby rabbit. If it has eaten one of these toxic or gas-producing foods, you’ll want to contact a vet immediately. Some of these food items may result in death in a short period of time – even in a matter of hours.

Chew Toys for Baby Rabbits

Rabbits love to chew. In fact, they need to chew to keep their teeth trimmed down. In the wild, rabbits would chew on twigs and shrubs, as well as other food sources. These “tougher” sources help to keep their gums and teeth healthy.

If you don’t give your baby rabbit “appropriate” things to chew on, they may begin to chew on inappropriate items in your home such as furniture, baseboards and wires. To prevent this unwanted behavior, give your baby bun the following:

  • Wooden chew toys. If you are providing natural wood, do not use cedar which is toxic to rabbits. Also, make sure that any toys that are painted have been colored with vegetable dyes. Many wooden chew toys are available for purchase.
  • Cardboard. Rabbits love to chew on and toss about empty toilet paper rolls and small cardboard boxes. Be sure to remove any staples or tape.
  • Natural items. Fruit tree twigs and pinecones make great toys and provide interesting flavors for your bun to explore. If collecting these items outside, you need to make sure they are pesticide and herbicide-free. You’ll also want to wash and dry them thoroughly before giving them to your rabbit.
  • Chew treats. Ready-made rabbit snacks, such as compressed cubes containing Timothy hay and dehydrated fruit, offer nutritional value as well as helping to trim their teeth.
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